What do a weather-predicting rodent and the lowly crawfish have in common? If you guessed they both emerge from a burrow, you would be right. However, that is where the similarity ends. The famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow every Feb. 2 to predict an early spring or longer winter. The crawfish emerges to become the main course at many backyard boils for family and friends. February seems to be the “unofficial” start of crawfish season in Texas. However, crawfish can begin arriving at local markets as early as December. 

Crawfish are produced in several states across the south; however, Louisiana remains the largest producer of wild-caught and farmed-raised crawfish in the United States. It is estimated Louisiana produces 90 to 95 percent of the crawfish consumed. The Atchafalaya Basin is the largest source of wild-caught crawfish, with over 800 commercial fishermen harvesting. Farm-raised crawfish is also an important source with over 120,000 acres of ponds. According to the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board, the Louisiana crawfish industry produces between 120 million to 150 million pounds annually; employs approximately 7,000 people; and infuses over $300 million into Louisiana’s economy. 

There are two species of crawfish that become the dinner guest at a crawfish boil. These are the red swamp (Procambarus clarkii) and the white river crawfish (Procambarus zonangulus). 

Crawfish are crustaceans placed in the phylum Arthropoda because they have a segmented body, external skeleton and jointed legs. Both species are native to the United States and share similar environmental requirements. 

The life cycle of the red swamp and white river crawfish includes the adaptation to seasonal dry periods and flooding. The life cycle begins with the male and female crawfish mating, usually in open water. The male will deposit his sperm sack onto the female’s seminal receptacle located on her abdomen. She may mate with more than one male. 

The female crawfish can spawn in open water, but she usually digs a burrow into the mud. Once inside the safety of the burrow, she spawns. Spawning occurs when the female releases her eggs and fertilizes them with the sperm. The eggs and newly hatched crawfish are held against the female’s abdomen with her small legs, swimmerets. The hatchlings remain with the female until they emerge from the burrow during a high-water period where the area is flooded. 

Once in open water, the young crawfish forage for food. Crawfish eat a variety of foods: rotting vegetation, vegetation and animals, living or dead. A crawfish grows by molting, which is done by crawling out of its external skeleton. Farm-raised or wild-caught crawfish are harvested by hand. The harvester will place a baited trap in shallow open water. Crawfish are attracted by the bait. Once crawfish enter the trap, they are unable to escape. The harvester will empty the traps, adding more bait if needed, and return the trap to the water. The harvest season can begin as early as December and runs through May. 

Crawfish, like all seafood, is highly perishable. Leftover boiled crawfish should be kept at 40F and eaten in a day or two. Live crawfish should be kept cool, between 42F and 45F. Dropping the temperature below 38F can cause frost formation on the gills, killing the crawfish. If you would like more information on crawfish visit, https://fisheries.tamu.edu/ a q u a c u l t u r e / c r a w f i s h - production/ or send an email to me at john.oconnell@ag.tamu. edu. 

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